Making Space: Turning Earth


In the second of our features on London open-access making spaces, we meet Tallie Maughan, founder and creative director of Turning Earth, a ceramics studio started in Hoxton, East London, in 2013


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What’s the intended purpose behind the workshop? 
We give people flexible access to affordable workspace. We provide the facilities and the community they need to develop their practice, turn professional if they wish to, and to get their businesses off the ground. 

What kinds of creative industries do you cater for at Turning Earth? 
We cater for hobbyist potters, early-career professionals, and start up micro-businesses in ceramics. Members include ceramicists making crockery and other functional ware, as well as sculptural artists.

Can you tell us about the space? 
Our members’ studio occupies two large glass fronted railway arches in the Kingsland Viaduct in Hoxton. It has high ceilings and is flooded with light. In one arch is the class area, members storage, and the kiln room. In the other arch is a big open plan workspace that’s quiet, peaceful and uncluttered. In that arch we have a mezzanine with a kitchen where members can socialise and spend time planning their projects.

Is Turning Earth characterised by a particular philosophy or set of values?
Turning Earth exists to help people make life more beautiful. Whether that's by making beautiful objects, doing things in an environmentally sustainable way, or simply finding a route away from doing a job that bores you into doing the thing that you love. 

Do you think that collaborative spaces are necessary for the creative industries? 
Yes, we definitely think collaborative spaces are important for creative industries. We especially think it's important to create mixed ecologies that contain both professionals and those that work part-time or for fun. People who aren't dependent on income from their work have more space for play and experimentation - the elements that drive innovation. Strong style trends and some powerful designs emerge from Turning Earth simply because there is so much aesthetic awareness in one place and people influence each other. Hobbyists also help to financially support professional makers, giving them income from teaching and of course working in a collaborative atmosphere means people support and learn from each other on a daily basis - rather than being stuck in the studio at the end of the garden, they get to see their peers every day. People vie to participate in symposiums for just these benefits.
There’s also the cost benefit. If you can pay for your membership on a month-to-month basis, the risk is low compared to renting and equipping a studio. It gives many people an alternative route into a professional career, without taking the risk of funding a university course and before they are sure there is a market for the kind of work they want to make, or to find out if they actually like making it. For many people leaving university there's a period where they aren't yet able to fund their studio space - they need to build a market for their work first. Collaborative spaces are good transitional places for people that are making a change.

How have you seen London’s creative network develop since Turning Earth started? 
There was no studio like Turning Earth in London when we opened. I came back from the US to open one simply because I found it quite shocking that there was no large scale community ceramics provision and I was sure that Londoners would want it as I did - it's really common in the US. I guess no one could get it off the ground before we experienced all those cuts to our funded institutions. I wanted to see something focused on the part-time members - some potters opened their studios to be used by other people, or ran classes, but it seemed like a side line to their own practice. Since we opened, other people - the Ceramics Studio Coop and the Kiln Rooms in South London, for example - have also taken the open-access model on board. Similarly, when I moved back from America, my friends at Building Bloqs - the makerspace in Enfield - were just beginning to get started. Now they've been given a £1.4 million grant from the London Regeneration Fund - people are really beginning to get it.

What are some of the major setbacks to starting a creative business in London? How does an open access workshop help mitigate these problems? 
Industrial space in London has been eroded rapidly as a result of the housing crisis. I think something like 750 football pitches of industrial land were lost between 2008 and 2011. It means it's hard for anyone to find space to work. Collaborative workspaces make it possible to share space and facilities with others in an efficient way. You also can therefore - as an organisation - work with the council and landlords etc to secure longer leases, without the individual artists taking those kinds of risks.

What have you learned from working in an environment like Turning Earth? 
Oh dear. Where to start? I have learned that there are some extremely talented people in London. When I first got back I thought the level of craftsmanship pretty substandard - people were coming out of degree programs without the technical abilities of your average American high school grad hobbyist. I'd seen engineers at Google making far more impressive things for fun. But now, the work at Turning Earth is stronger than any of the work I've seen in similar community studios in the US. Once people had some practice, the strong aesthetics and design abilities of our members started to shine through. There are a lot of people that don't do these things the standard route (by going to university etc) that have a huge amount to contribute. It's really shown me that you learn to design as much by having the opportunity to play around without pressure as you do on a structured course.
I have also learned a lot about the power of social media. The route to reaching your audience has changed. Where you used to do a masters to get contacts and meet stockists, now you can put your work on Instagram and let the public judge for itself. It's a lot more democratic.

What part of the job most pleases you?  
A year ago my brother joined the team. I think it's every sister's dream to get to tell her older brother what to do. On a more serious note, he used to work as a nursing manager ar Bupa, so he had a whole new perspective on management, and he was able to tighten a lot of things up. It's really a pleasure to work with someone with whom I share values so implicitly - we both want to create a warm and nurturing community where people are happy. He also sees the aesthetic vision in the place and carries it through - to make it have that inspiring, peaceful atmosphere that is great to work in, meanwhile working hard to ensure that we keep the work going through the studio smoothly from a technical standpoint. I read a book recently called 'It Starts With Why' - it explained that some people are all about the why - the big ideas, and other people are more about 'how'. The best team has both. I learned that Walt Disney had an older brother called Ron, who was the real force behind that company. And because we are related, I think there's now more of a family feeling among our team and the community generally, which is lovely.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? 
Always confront. Seriously, I think those are words to live by. That piece of advice taught me to put what I felt to be important before being 'nice'. Actually, I think it's always possible to address issues in a friendly and straightforward way, particularly if you don't let them build up.

A hole-and-corner is a secret place hidden away from the hustle and bustle of daily life: Where is your own hole-and-corner? 
Well, it definitely used to be places like Turning Earth, before I ran one myself. Now I am happy to be at work whenever I am there, but while it never feels like work, it's definitely hustle and bustle for me. If I need to find peace I do some gardening. I love my garden. I think working with clay and gardening are similar in many ways.

Interview Nicholas Hitchcock
Photographs Johanna Ward